Last night I sat down to write a review of David Bowie’s new album, Blackstar, and in the (currently unpublished) piece, I praised the album’s surging vitality and David’s endless gift for reinvention. This morning I woke to the news that David Bowie had passed from this world, aged a mere 69, following a battle with cancer. Like that other great artist, Freddie Mercury, who recorded ‘Innuendo’ fully aware of his impending fate (and put his very soul into the process), David Bowie was an artist to the very end, crafting an album that challenged the boundaries of accepted music-making rather than submitting to them, and crafting a masterpiece in the process. However, my heart is too heavy to finish the review right now; the loss is too close and any attempt to write meaningfully about the album will be tinged too heavily with a sense of hindsight that David would undoubtedly have abhorred.
At a time when so many are taking to their keyboards to eulogise one of the great musical talents, it does not seem indulgent to say a few words about a man who influenced so many. Unafraid to experiment and grow, it would seem pithy to suggest that all of David’s work was exemplary, but, as a much respected friend pointed out in his own piece, where David failed, he learned from his mistakes and moved forward. Where, for example, the excesses of the excellent ‘let’s dance’ led to the painful ‘tonight’ and the insipid ‘never let me down’, David’s penchant for reinvention led to dabblings with industrial (‘outside’), drum ‘n’ bass (the criminally underrated ‘earthling’) and heady space rock (‘heathen’ and ‘reality’) all of which invariably had significant influence over the scenes in which they were spawned. Unlike so many artists, it was quite possible to enter the world of Bowie admiring him for his contribution to one genre only to find that, as your tastes changed over time, so you found more about the man to admire. For myself, it was the blistering ‘I’m afraid of Americans’ which got me hooked, only for my admiration to expand as I discovered the epic might of ‘station to station’ and the dark conceptual musings of ‘diamond dogs’. As such I feel that I have grown into Bowie, and that he remained one step ahead of all of us, exploring avenues with the voracious appetite of the true artist, only to switch course whilst the rest of us were catching up, avoiding sterility at every turn. Even David’s return to action with ‘the next day’ wrong-footed the audience with a deliberately misleading and frail sounding single giving way to an album of raging peaks that sounded as vital as anything recorded during his earlier career.
David Bowie means so much to so many people. He had the rare gift of imbuing each album with at least one killer single as a means to haul listeners in, only for the albums to offer so many more possibilities. You may start by admiring the catchy hook of one or two tracks, but slowly you’d realise that the albums ebbed and flowed with a grace that came from careful thought and planning. David was rarely one for filler. Nonetheless, with such a body of singles, there are many listeners who would not call themselves fans and yet will still mourn his loss, so ingrained in the public consciousness has he become. His music brightened the world and yet, when David chose to rock, it could also tumble mountains.
David Bowie may have passed on, but all those years of wonderful music are eternal and it is highly likely that listeners will still be dissecting the mercilessly excellent ‘blackstar’ in years to come – I can think of no better epitaph for him than that. So whilst music fans everywhere will grieve at the loss of a great artist, the legacy of David bowie will live on. His endlessly searching creativity and playful spirit will continue to resonate as new fans discover the wonders of his back catalogue. Tonight it is easy to imagine that music fans everywhere will be playing their favourite album and, if there are tears in their eyes, they will still be singing along, because David lived and breathed his creations and there is no more fitting tribute to an artist than to honour them through their work. All too often we use phrases like “the world will never see their like again” but, in this instance, it is all too true. David Bowie was a one-off, a unique personality and I, like so many others, will continue to feel the void that he has left.